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Utah Hype Keeps Growing; Utes (+4000) Now Have Better Odds to Win CFP Title Than Notre Dame (+5000)

Rice Eccles Stadium, home to the Utah Utes
Rice Eccles Stadium is going to be a hard place to visit in 2019, according to some oddsmakers. Photo by Brenton Walker (flickr).
  • Some oddsmakers have Utah as a top-15 contender in the 2020 National Championship race
  • Utah only has one 10-win season since joining the Pac-12 in 2011
  • But they are coming of a South Division crown last year 

At first, it must be a little jarring to see Utah — a team that has yet to win the Pac-12 in eight seasons as a member — with better CFP National Championship odds than Notre Dame, a playoff participant from last year which plans on being back before long.

But when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham breaks his usually stodgy demeanor to tell Athlon his defensive line has, “three NFL guys, at least,” maybe something is brewing in Salt Lake City.

That said, not every sportsbook is buying into the Utah hype, as you can see in the table below. Their odds range from +4000 all the way to +12500.

Utah Utes 2020 National Championship Odds

Team Odds at Sportsbook 1 Odds at Sportsbook 2 Odds at Sportsbook 3
Utah +4000 +5000 +12500

Odds collected Aug. 9, 2019.

Are some oddsmakers getting caught up in an August hype machine? Or are others too slow to react?

Something to build on

The Utes really got the offense rolling in October last year, rebounding from losses to the Washington schools by averaging 6.58, 7.28, 6.73 and 6.53 yards per play in wins over Stanford, Arizona, USC and UCLA. (For context, the national median was 5.77.)

That changed in November, starting quickly with a loss to Arizona State and failing to get above 6.0 yards per play in all but one of its final six games.

The difference? Quarterback Tyler Hundley and his broken collarbone. Leading rusher Zack Moss also missed those final five games — but still had a 1,000-yard season — so having those two back should jumpstart the offense. 

That offense has plenty of weapons to meet what should be a pretty easy job: supporting its defense.

Utah was the Pac-12’s best run defense last year and returns two defensive linemen, Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae, that could’ve easily been in the 2019 NFL Draft. Anae comes back after leading the Pac-12 in sacks and finishing third in tackles for a loss.

The linebacking corps and secondary remains unproven, but the Utes have a long track record of taking quality athletes from their recruiting classes — many of them running backs or wide receivers in high school — and converting them to linebackers or defensive backs. There will be talent, but if that talent doesn’t convert to execution, it could be the only weakness this team has.

The Utes’ Schedule Is Favorable

Considering the Utes haven’t lost to BYU since 2009, going to the Cougars should not be a problem.

I expect Utah to be favored in all of its home conference games (Washington State, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and Colorado), leaving just road tests at USC, Oregon State, Washington, and Arizona to navigate.

Two wins in those four games could be enough to get the Utes to the Pac-12 championship game and, thus, get them in the Playoff if they win it. Three could almost guarantee that Pac-12 championship game spot.

The only trouble is, if Utah does get to the Pac-12 championship game and loses, will the resume be good enough to crash the Playoff? I doubt it — and Utah can’t win the national title if it isn’t in the Playoff.

Final word

I stand by the point I’ve made a couple of times now that this era of college football is not the time to bet on national champion long shots; but, if so inclined, seeing Utah at odds this long on Sportsbook 3 is worth a look for those inclined to chase a big payout.

I would personally look at the 2019 Pac-12 championship odds as a place to back the Utes, given my distaste for national champion longshots.

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